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Some ESPs Do It All – Here’s What to Look For

An Email Service Provider (ESP) offers several marketing options, lets you send bulk emails and provides you with reports on the campaign results.

As for the recipients of your campaign, the most popular email providers are quite flexible, letting you use your own CRM data, the provider’s contact list (also called an audience) or a combination of both.

Some ESPs are complete marketing platforms that handle every aspect, including email design, audience management and segmentation, sending and reporting. Others only offer software that lets you create and send email campaigns on your own.

When shopping around for a full-service ESP, “deliverability is key,” said Michael Boy, Take 5 Media Group’s Director of Production. “What kind of deliverability do they provide, and is it scalable?”

Boy also noted that an ESP must have a good reputation with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). “Everything relies on a good relationship with the ISPs. You need clean data and records and active recipients who engage with your content. Keep your records up to date and introduce new content.”

So, if you’re running an email campaign that has an initial batch of 10K emails “but the messaging is bad, the IP reputation is bad or engagement is low and people are unsubscribing,” Boy said, “instead of letting the rest of the emails go through the ISPs slow down the amount of what they let through.”

This is called “throttling,” and it’s something you want to avoid at all costs.

When considering an email campaign, look at your resources, needs and goals:

  • Do you want to send an email to just your own list or to hundreds of thousands (and in some cases millions) of potential customers?
  • Are you looking for a one-time campaign or several deployments?
  • Do you want to include other marketing channels, like retargeting email openers with social media and display ads on desktops and mobile devices?
  • Do you have an in-house staff and resources to conduct the type of email campaign you’re interested in?

If the answer to the last point is no, here’s what you should consider when looking for an Email Service Provider:

Adhering to the Rules

Data privacy is constantly in the news and a big concern of many consumers. Make sure the ESP you’re considering adheres to the 2003 Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM).

It regulates several aspects of email marketing and doesn’t allow deceptive subject lines, requires the sender to be accurately identified as a person or business and forces marketers to include a “clear and conspicuous” opt-out.

If you’re sending emails to Canada, it has a similar law, the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). And across the pond the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It’s quite strict and if you’re targeting EU citizens – whether they’re in the EU or not – you must adhere to the GDPR.

Does the ESP have your target audience?

This is crucial, since you don’t want to waste your time and money on sending emails to the wrong consumers. Ask the email service provider how many email addresses they have for your target audience.

If they don’t have the audience you’re looking for, ask if they can build it for you. Also, ask the ESP if they offer any added value to their audiences, like self-reported interests and lifestyle changes (looking to buy a new car or house, newly married, etc.)

Email deliverability and click-through rates

Like we mentioned earlier, this is a major benchmark of a good ESP. You need to make sure your emails make it to the people on your list and the recipients click on the email’s links.

Sounds like a no-brainer but if engagement is low and a lot of people are unsubscribing, the ISPs can slow down or even stop the campaign completely. Ask the ESP about these rates and how they plan on optimizing them for your campaign.

Also, ask about how they keep their lists clean and up to date (more on this below). Data hygiene plays a major role in deliverability and response rates.

Data hygiene

Email marketing lists need constant management and refreshing to stay as effective as possible. A good ESP will remove questionable domains and any odd- or profane-sounding email addresses. Known opt-outs and hard bounces also need to be removed.

“You want to avoid stale data, fake, non-existent and misspelled email addresses,” said Take 5’s Michael Boy. “And you don’t want a lot of hard bounces. This is a huge no-no for ISPs and shows you’re not paying attention to your list. Once hard bounces go up your IP reputation goes down.”

Boy said to keep the list relevant and, “Look at how often recipients engage with the emails. If your content is going into spam folders your IP reputation is on the decline. You need to make sure your records are valid, up to date and not stale.”

You certainly want to stay on the good side of the big ISPs. The digital marketing experts at Convince&Convert noted that “IP addresses appearing on just one of the 12 major blacklists had email deliverability 25 points below those not listed on any blacklists.”

Double opt-in

Are the email addresses in the audience double opt-ins? Also known as a confirmed opt-in, this is when someone clicks a website’s confirmation button or replies in the affirmative after getting an email asking if they want to subscribe to the list.

These will be your most responsive audiences since they want to hear from you.

Will they do A/B testing?

Ask the email service provider if they do A/B testing prior to full campaign deployment. This is a great way to gauge how subject lines, images, Calls to Action (CTAs) and overall designs work. If one subject line gets better open rates than another, that’s your winner.

Email design

If the ESP offers email design services, ask to see some samples. Check to see if the email has a clean, easy to read look, eye-catching graphics and conforms to the brand’s identity.

Make sure the email service provider also offers responsive email designs. Over 50% of email opens occur on a mobile device so ask the ESP if their designs are optimized for tablets and smartphones.

Do they offer services like display ad and social media retargeting?

Email works great with other digital marketing channels like display ad and social media retargeting. You can show email openers your ad on their desktop, phone, tablet or social media feed, say five days (or basically any amount of time you want) after they receive the email.

This keeps you on their mind and provides a true, multi-touch campaign. See more on this in How a Retargeting Strategy works with Email.

Email reporting:

Ask them about their reporting on deliverability, opens, click-throughs, bounces and more. Find out how long it takes for them to get you a report. In many cases that data should be available within 48 – 72 hours from when the email was sent. Ask to see a sample report to make sure you understand the campaign results. For more on this and to see a sample report go to Email Marketing Advantages.

Is there a lot of work to email marketing? Sure, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Consider it part of your overall digital marketing strategy and use the above questions as a guide when looking for a reputable Email Service Provider.

Quick Links – Here’s What We’re Covering:

What is email marketing and how does it work?

How to Create an Email Marketing Strategy Plan

The Different Types of Email Marketing

Email Marketing Advantages

Email Versus Direct Mail

Email Versus Social Media

How a Retargeting Strategy works with Email


Take 5 Media Group has been creating and deploying email campaigns for more than 15 years. We’re also experts at building audiences based on demographics, lifestyle changes, intent to buy and more.

We then use our innovative marketing channels, that include email, social media and display ad retargeting, influencer and content marketing and geo-fencing to get your message to these highly-targeted audiences.

To find out more about us, call Take 5 Media Group, Boca Raton, Florida, 561-819-5555, in New York at 917-201-7451 or visit our website at Take5mg.com.